January 14th, off to Russia, thanks to the timely assistance of Alexei. We arrive in a basement of a Russian magic college dorm. As we walk out and through the campus, the local students all take a knee and greet Alexei as a (the?) Grandmaster. Alexei has made arrangements for lodging, a large house near the campus. We have an appointment with the Czar the day after next. Only Milo and one other will be permitted. We are also warned that the Lantern rings have been sealed off by large volumes of stone.
At our temporary house, we are met by a butler and given keys to numbered room. We are quickly left to roam or wait, to our desires. Our trunks have already been delivered and we have instructions on appropriate attire (more lace, unfortunately). After lunch, Gregor Sakoravich, one of the Russian battlemages we know, arrives to coordinate our escape plan. In effect, we have to make our own way to park near the palace, and set off a flare. Gregor will watch for that, find us in the park, and use his magic to transport us to Cairo.
According to Gregor, the Czar, in his youth, was energetic and interested in helping the non-magical population of Russia. Gregor believes that the Czar’s prior efforts significantly aided in keeping Russia intact during the war. He is considered fair, bad at dice, and listens to his wife Karina too much.
Karina believes in the abilities of non-Harrow readers ability to read cards, even non-Harrow cards, to guide the future. She is exceedingly conniving and very politically aware. She appears utterly loyal to the Czar, though manages a revolving cadre of lovers. The Czar’s son is anemic, and Karina does not permit clerics of most religions to attend to him, for fear that they will taint him. She believes that her son embodies the Spirit of Russia, and that a cleric might affect that. About the only healer permitted is one from more of a druidic persuasion.
The Czar’s son is a hemophiliac. He has survived, luckily, a large number of near-fatal events. He has not yet expressed as one with magical ability. However, a number of people attribute some miracles to him. The Czar himself is a wizard (only).
Gregor knows very little about Rasputin himself. Any visits with the Czar or family are carefully monitored in person by Rasputin. Rasputin comes from a farming background is married with three children, travels extensively, and visits his family home regularly. He is well studied from across Europe and the Mediterranean areas. He is not magical, yet performs miracles that no cleric of Gregor’s knowledge can identify.
The Czar fell ill a little over a year ago. Slowly, all of his senior advisors were dismissed and Rasputin moved from mostly supporting Karina (for several years), to taking over more for the Czar.
We discuss plans for a while. The primary plan is for Milo plus one to visit the Czar and learn what we can about his condition. Milo will also seek to learn if Rasputin worships a particular deity, something he can do in court near Rasputin. A secondary plan is to look into the Czar’s son and see if there is something we can do to help him. This in turn could help build our influence with Karina.
I send notes off to all of the future-Czar candidates with greetings and mention that we are in town. This results in a variety of invitations to various gatherings the next day. We use this to plan attendance at at least one event with each of the future-Czar contenders (Neovar, Mikail, Esmir, Cazamar, Alexei).
The first of our social events is a symposium on arcanum, focusing on Abjuration, and spoken in Latin. I don’t understand any of it. By the time the champagne and light food are made available, I’m ready for pretty much anything else. The conversation, the portions I understand are made up a lot of snark and outright verbal fisticuffs.
Neovar Kalishnovyk is at the symposium — the guy previously described by Alexei as a murderer who will burn Russia to the ground. His color, red, is prominent in his attire. People seem to be polite to his face, and hasten to trash him elsewhere. He seems to revel in that. We chat with him fairly pleasantly for a while, and he is very precise in greeting us properly.
Neovar tells us a bit about the Russian Court. He expects Karina to be in attendance, likely as well as Rasputin. Rasputin has routinely attended Court for about nine months. Likely a number of ministers loyal to Rasputin will be keeping a close eye on us. We should expect to attract attention from many fronts, and we’ll likely be directly engaged in conversation by both Karina and Rasputin. I ask him why he thinks the Czarship should continue, to which he asks me why I want to be Polish King. I make up an answer about seeing threats and wanting to be prepared for them, which leads to his view that Poland would make a good Russian duchy. He doesn’t have a position yet on the Guild of Nations.
Milo visits the Temple of Sarinrae in Moscow to introduce himself and get some background. The High Priest indicates that major healing miracles have been attempted on the Czar previously, with no lasting effect. No such attempts are known for the Czar’s son. One of other local priests had previously examined the Czar’s son is able to provide Milo with a more informative medical background — including a number of near-death experiences.
Mikail Baronovich meets us at a jewelry exhibit. Fine teas and coffees and more light fare. Lots of pretty and flashy jewelry. Mikail’s color is green, also reflected in his attire. He describes Russian Court as opulence beyond compare, with magic on prominent display. We are unlikely to be the primary target of practical jokes which can be common. He also cautions that we’ll be lucky to make it out of there alive, that is with our souls. He views the Czar’s reforms for the non-magical population, to have significantly improved their lot in life through education and opportunity. Mikail himself comes from a peasant family, so appreciates the reforms impact. Rasputin has dismissed many ministers who have crossed him in some way, and the resulting gaps, are causing an impact in the government’s ability to act. Faith in the Maelstrom Eye, the promise of change and opportunity, is almost all that remains to prevent a possible revolution. Mikail describes the Czar’s son as small for his age, frail, and yet with something unique to him. The kid is bright and reasonably well educated, having lots of time to read. He apparently learned Italian (a language Karina does not know). As Czar, Mikail would like to get rid of the Aristocracy and replace it with a government of (non-magical) people. He thinks the Polish approach is interesting, yet limited, in that it does not permit everyone to vote. He wants to find ways for Russia to make money. He also aspires to only be Czar for a short time, perhaps only a decade, so he can not have to work. He doesn’t really expect to be Czar, but does want to find the Sunken City, just so he can obtain some trinket from it to have and appreciate.
Mikail directs Milo to a lady named Sarina, who can get him into the room with the Czar’s son. Milo’s cause is helped since he both speaks Italian and has been there — things of keen interest to the boy. The boy learned Italian despite none of his family knowing a bit of it.